After last week’s post and the great responses from you lot, I felt a renewed enthusiasm for this blog, something I haven’t felt in a while. Thank you, I should’ve asked ages ago. I went to the beach for a run the day after. I assumed everything was back to normal. It was more jammed with people than I have ever seen with a tailback into the mile long car park. As I jogged towards the less populated dunes, thinking warmly of you rant-lovers out there, I considered categorizing my rants.
Minor Rants (Inspired by one off actions that cause an explosion of disbelief in my own self): The person swerving onto a car parking space just as I am running by it…
Major Useless Rants (Ruminating strongly on things that will never change): Crowds of people crowding and seeming to find it enjoyable.
Major Useful Rants (Things that might change if we shout loudly enough): Dog owners allowing dogs off the leash to chase birds in the Special Protected Area by the dunes…arrrgggghhh!
Anyway…with the blog in mind, I have started making thumbnail sketches and taking photos. Photos. I take photos for all sort of reasons. Some are just snaps of something for itself – a stonechat, sun on the landscape – others are visual jokes like a piratey- looking bin – while others are notes or references for ideas or paintings. Heaps are a current favourite, heaps of anything, along with traffic cones, sandbags and road markings. If I die and people go through my phone they will assume I was mental.
But I miss my notebooks of old where I scrawled ideas, did quick sketches with colour notes so I am using that too.
Wednesday’s totter around about the cliffs was a “One Kestrel, One Bunny, Two Container Ship” walk. The kestrel was on a mudheap looking ruffled. Further on down the road, in a field, the bunny. On bunnies, they were never seen much around here until the great bunny explosion of 2022, probably caused by new housing pushing them out this way, but recently they have dwindled sharply once again. The local farmer told me it was because a ‘certain type of people’ (not the phrase used) have been shooting them. He is fond of the bunnies – and the birds (except the buzzard which eats baby bunnies) – so he has put up Lands Preserved and Keep Off signs all over the place. Probably too late. Hence, this was a one bunny walk.
Down towards the sea I spotted two container ships, one behind the other seemingly heading west. But checking their past tracks on the AIS Marine Traffic site, it seems they were travelling to Waterford port but being held off, probably by bad weather.
The rest of the week I was busy – painting, making an installation in gallery, purely for my own amusement (hard work though, and involves traffic cones and concrete. Maybe more on that elsewhere) and doing my proper job. It’s ony January 8th and I’m burned out already…see you next Sunday.
One last reminder that submissions in writing or by email re: Newtown Woods should reach Ian Ludlow, Staff Officer, Active Travel, Waterford City & County Council, Menapia Building, The Mall, Waterford firstname.lastname@example.org before 4p.m. on Tuesday 28th June, 2022.Submissions should be clearly marked with “Submission Part 8 Newtown Hill” in the subject line.
Now back to the beach. Sort of. Years ago, when I was working in a hotel Amsterdam, one of the male cleaners took a shine to me. He conveyed this burgeoning obsession in a sheaf of handwritten pages of foolscap that, among other things, compared me to Jesus Christ. At the time I thought he was crazy but these days I seriously wonder if he was on to something because these days I seem to be a magnet for every nut job, ignoramus, and asshole on the planet. Nowhere is this more apparent than on the beach.
I walked down to Garrarus in the evening, the little beach about half an hour away. I didn’t go down onto the sand. Instead I went up on the cliff and stared morosely at the water which was like a millpond in the sunset. It was still relatively busy. I haven’t been swimming since January partly because of how annoyed busy beaches make me, but there and then, I decided this week I would tackle my misanthropy to the ground and plunge back in…
The weather is hot and, after spending some time out on the cliffs looking for basking sharks,(none) and watching the cormorants, shags, kittiwakes, pigeons and gulls – their fuzzy grey chicks tottering about – I walked down to Garrarus. The beach was quiet but by the time I got out of the water, a family of five were bringing their kayaks and boards down the beach and planting them near the water. To give them (me) space I moved up the beach to the large flat rock near the steps. But true to my christ-like magnetism, they followed me and set up camp within five feet. In the spirit of my new magnaminity, I just shifted my towel slightly, put on my shades and hat, turned off my hearing aids and gazed into the distance. I stayed that way until a handsome (well he thought so) muscular man, a long distant swimmer, emerged god-like from the water nearby and began to stare in my direction – god knows why. I am thankfully past my sell by date according to the patriarchy. A few decades ago this might have been exciting but a life time of experience of men and their carry-on behind me, it merely makes it really, really annoying so, before I gained an extra disciple I left. But it was a start.
Encouraged by my newly sprouting tolerance, I went back to the beach with my book. To my horror I realised, too late, that it was midsummer’s eve which meant there were a lot of people about including a band of teens camping and, worse, a circle of drumming meditators. The teens were fine actually and switching off the hearing aids dealt with the drumming, which was quieter than last year. Maybe they heard ‘someone’ giving out about it…There was a scatter of people about near the cliffs, which is where the regular swimmers sit so as not crowd the tiny low tide swim spot. I stopped at a respectful distance and planted my towel. ‘I can do this.’ I thought. Even the couple and their child, hogging the waters edge earned my forgiveness. They looked too large to be able to walk any distance without having heart attacks anyway. As I hobbled over the stones to the sea, two women with swimming gear came down the beach with a big black dog off the leash. This is a pet (ahem) hate of mine but I decided it was none of my business and hurried to take a quick dip in order to leave the water to them. Once in the sea however, I turned around to see the dog squatting near my towel. Rather than scold it, it’s two owners took his toilet to be a sign that they should park themselves right there too. It was at this point my obviously over-stretched magnaminity suddenly gave out and, despite the nearby child floating globularly on the water, I yelled…
“For Fucks Sake!“
I dashed (hobbled) out of the water and up the beach yelling things about manners and dogs off the lead but the women just looked as bemused as do all those dog owners who can’t comprehend that they aren’t the centre of everyone’s universe. I suppose I was lucky they weren’t the other sort of dog owner – the ones who attack hard on the heels of their mutts. I grabbed my stuff and took it around the cliff to the unfashionable but empty part of the beach. It was a longer hobble away from the swim spot but it was worth it not to end up trying to read my book at bollock-level to a big shitty dog and listen to two wittering idiots. Back in the water the globby child tried to catch my eye. She obviously wanted a sweary friend. She wasn’t going to get one.
Despite the previous evenings beach-bitching I headed to Garrarus once more. Leaving my house I spotted a sparrowhawk being chased by a tumble of swallows. There was a small, swallow shape clutched in its talons. Swooping across a garden it rose up and over a field and, flapping hard, disappeared into the distance. Thinking of how savage the world is for the little birds cast a shadow over my walk to Garrarus and I arrived expecting the worst but I was dumbfounded to find that I had the beach to myself. This emptiness continued for the bones of half an hour. It has been so many years since this happened that I began to think the world had ended, that aliens had invaded and decimated the population. And I found I didn’t care. If everyone was dead, like the little swallow, I would still have a glorious swim and, under the gimlet eye of the local heron, I did. Perhaps this was reward from the universe for my perserverance.
On Thursday the weather started to change and I wasn’t sure about a swim. I wasn’t feeling so good either. By nightfall my throat had closed up and I was coughing. The universe giveth and the universe taketh away. Perhaps it was too much cold water too late in the day or the stress of spending a week trying to be someone I am not. Or perhaps I was right and people are best avoided. No more people for me. I have learned my lesson. For the next seven days anyway.
This post is a resource for those wanting to send a submission to Waterford Council in regards to Newtown Woods. It’s far from comprehensive but feel free to use this information and copy and paste what you need Submissions in writing or by email, to reach Ian Ludlow, Staff Officer, Active Travel, Waterford City & County Council, Menapia Building, The Mall, Waterford email@example.com before 4p.m. on Tuesday 28th June, 2022.
Back in 2007 a lot of locals here campaigned against a big development on our coast which is a Special Protected Area (SPA). At the centre of the campaign was the chough, a bird of the crow family that lives on cliffs. The campaign group was ignored by the County Council, who supported the development, with one councillor saying on local radio that ‘Choughs could go and live in trees’ for all she cared. To which I say ‘may a rat take up residence in your underpants’. 15 years on, in response to the current proposals at Newtown Woods, the Council Heritage Officer devotes a paragraph of her memo (See References and Links below) to choughs who, as noted, don’t live in trees. Perhaps in 15 years they will survey the trees to measure impacts on dolphins…
It’s true that the rest of that memo deals with use of modified lighting with regards to wildlife, particularly birds and bats, and the conservation of trees, but time and again it only commits to protect and preserve ‘where possible.’ And in their own proposal vis a vis lighting they add the rider that ‘PUBLIC LIGHTING TO BE RENEWED AND EXTENDED WHERE REQUIRED’ (Appendix 1). All of which leaves a lot of room for manoeuvre.
It should also be noted that in the memo, the developers have been asked to keep construction within the boundary fence and not store flammable chemicals outside it but as is obvious to all they have continuously stored construction materials outside the fence and under the trees, which is skating a bit close to the line if you ask me. That’s how much such agreements and conditions are valued.
Anyway the the main points of my submission are below.
Street lighting limited to the entrance of the housing development and not continue down the roads by and through the woods.
The containing wall is vital and needs to stay.
Scrap the one way system.
Of specific concern in regarding the council’s proposals:
The proposed street lighting (even modified lighting) – disturbance to bird and bat life.
The possible planned removal of the containing wall – disturbance to flora and fauna, removal of food source, removal of insect habitat. Added light pollutions from passing cars.
The increase in traffic through the wood by the one-way system and by additional proposed apartments.
That these developments and proposals will pave the way for further developments including further lighting and impacts.
Lack of a proper survey of the woods itself, it’s flora and fauna and how they integrate.
I will also request a survey to benchmark the woods. In the best case, the woods will be ring fenced and managed for future generations. In the worst…well I have to try. As far as I am concerned, we cannot afford to lose the Newtown Woods habitat or have it changed even one iota. Below, some more information and links, including the Heritage Officers memo.
Next week I’ll be back to giving out about other stuff…
Appendix 1: Irish Woodlands and Newtown Woods in brief.
Ireland is one of the least wooded countries in Europe with only 9% wooded area and most of that being made up of commercial forests. Older woodlands are incredibly important and in fact are in an emergency situation. Newtown Woods contains Native trees such as oak and ash – which is under threat from ash dieback, a disease which came to Ireland in 2012 and is expected to wipe out most of our ash trees. Also present are sycamore and beech, considered non-natives but in fact long term resident on the island of Ireland.
Appendix 2: Heritage
This area is also part of our heritage, the woods and wall – which is also a habitat in itself as well as a provider of food for birds and a protection from traffic noise and light – being part of Lord Doneraile’s estates. Lord Doneraile was a title owned by the St. Ledger family who had estates in Cork and Waterford from the mid 1600s. Newtown House was built around 1750. By the early 1800s, Newtown was being managed by the Power family, still the dominant name in the area. Above is a map from 1840 which includes Newtown Woods. It was supposedly planted for commercial use – most likely for building carts, tools and out-buildings on the estate, and there is likely evidence of woods management from that period. It has not changed much since then however it has decreased to the northern edge where the developments are creeping in. But with the extra traffic this habitat will surely not last as long again.
Appendix 3: Benefits for Humans
Connection to nature is important for humans and this is acknowledged by initiatives like An Coillte’s Woodlands for Health program. Without going into it too deeply, Here is a recent evaluation of the program. Another evaluation (2014) noted that participants mood and sleep was noticeable improved by the program (Nairn, R,. 2020, p.58).
Appendix 4: Impacts
However, Human interaction with the woods demands knowledge and for that we need it surveys. For instance the recent building of dirt bike ramps in Newtown Woods and using branches cut from trees is a serious threat to this fragile environment and the council and others need to work harder to make sure this environment is properly appreciated.
Traffic has already increased hugely on the road through the woods. Visitors to Newtown Cove have swelled through lockdown and will increase more with the added developments. Every single visitor to Newtown Cove now leaves by car through the woods. This must have impact despite any surveys which were conducted, apparently without local consultation. As a local I would calculate the one way system could have increased traffic by the power of ten.
Knock on Effectson Wildlife
The lack of surveys of the specific area of Newtown in relation to developments means that we cannot tell what knock on effects there are because of those developments. In the past there was a badger sett at the north east corner of the woods. This has now been abandoned most likely due to the building of the Newtown Glen estate. It is also likely that the recent influx of rabbits to Westtown is a result of the new Newtown Cliff development. What impact will they have on the Westtown habitat – for hares for instance? And the increased traffic – what species will we lose? The owls, the nesting sparrowhawk? Some birds will stay but lighting has in other areas caused disruption to sleep and therefore breeding patterns. There’s some more species mentioned in previous posts.
Waterford City and County Council Memo including conservation recommendations for Newtown Woods
Anne Doyle, Executive Planner
Bernadette Guest, Heritage Officer
21/836Residential development of 27 houses comprising 24 no. detached two storey houses and 3 no. single storey terraced houses and ancillary site works. This development is an extension of the already complete Newtown Glen housing development in Tramore.
16th October 2021
It is noted the proposed development is located adjacent to the northern section of Newtown Woods.
Under Section 6.2.3 New Residential Development in the Tramore Local Area Plan 2014-2020 ; The Council will aim to protect and preserve mature and semi-mature trees where possible and will require new developments to be so designed as to integrate existing trees into any new schemes. Sufficient distance should be maintained between existing mature trees and new buildings
Policy GI 1 states; The Council will preserve and enhance the amenity and biodiversity value of Tramore by preserving as far as possible trees, woodlands and hedgerows and will consider Tree Preservation Orders in order to protect trees of significance in the Plan area.
To ensure compliance with these policies the following conditions are recommended;
The development shall establish a 5m buffer zone from the boundary of the existing treeline of Newtown Woods.
All trees within the development site shall be protected by way of a 2m high wire mesh fence and be continuous outside the canopy and root protection area. The fenced and root protection area shall be a construction exclusion zone with no storage of fuels or chemicals in this area. The RPA fence shall remain in place for the duration of construction works.
Public lighting in the area adjacent to the woodland shall be designed to avoid unnecessary light spill in the interests of wildlife such as birdlife and foraging bats. Lighting scheme shall comprise low-pressure sodium lights on low height columns and shall minimise light spills by use of shields or louvers. Lights shall be restricted in this area to ensure dark periods for foraging and commuting birds and bats.
The site is approximately 120m north of the Mid-Waterford Coast SPA designated for Chough, Herring Gull, Peregrine and Cormorant. The proposed development will not incur loss of habitat from within the ecological footprint of the SPA and does not have direct or hydrological connectivity to the SPA being separated by Newtown Woods. The proposed development will not incur loss of grassland habitat within or close to the SPA essential for feeding Chough or lead to reduction in water quality. It is considered the proposed development does not have potential for significant effects on the conservation objectives of the qualifying interests of the Mid-Waterford Coast SPA and can be screened out for further assessment.
You may have seen in the news this week that Fair Seas, a new coalition made up of the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG), the Irish Wildlife Trust, BirdWatch Ireland, Coastwatch, Coomhola Salmon Trust, Friends of the Irish Environment, SWAN and the Irish Environmental Network, have published a report calling for the protection of 30% of our coastal waters. Currently only 2% is protected. Theres a link to the report below but here is an image of the areas they are suggesting protecting.
As you can see, this is some good news for those who want to keep proposed windfarms 20km or more off the Waterford and East Cork coast where turbines have been proposed between 5-8km off shore. Though of course there are ways to work around protected areas. I have written elsewhere about the windfarms and intend to do some more research, primarily around how environmental impact is measured. The issues around Newtown Woods, which I have written about in the last weeks, have demonstrated how surveys are skewed. In the Newtown Woods case, the only areas surveyed were Natura 2000 sites, all between 3-30 miles away from the woods. In the windfarm’s case, most species may not be included in a survey because they are ‘migratory’ but show me a whale or dolphin or even a fish that’s not!
I do know change is inevitable and some development is desirable (imagine if it could be intelligent development!) but I find the disingenuouness – to put it mildly – that accompanies these changes really annoying. A part of me sometimes thinks I would be much happier if developers and councils and others (like the people near me who have just chopped down a load of trees in high nesting season) would just say “Look, we are going to kill all sorts of things and make everywhere look shit, get over it”. At least we would know where we stand.
But its not all bad. Waterford Council’s recent alignment with an All Ireland Pollinator Plan which allows certain roundabouts and verges to grow wild, is not only heartening but quite beautiful to behold. I have heard people give out about the council a lot and imply that destruction is only to be expected from them – I have succumbed to these thoughts too – but I don’t think that’s necessarily true and that mindset is not helpful. And as individuals I have always found them friendly and ready to help. For instance many council workers have helped me locate dolphin carcasses which I record for the IWDG.
Regarding Newtown Woods, I am still gathering information with the help of a number of people. I have been walking most days past the woods, where, at dusk I have tried playing long-eared owl calls in the hope of getting some replies. No joy yet. Might be too early for chicks. Anyway, next week I will publish as much information as I have for people to copy and paste into submissions they might like to make to the council regarding proposed road and lighting upgrades. For submissions contact Ian Ludlow, Staff Officer, Active Travel, Waterford City & County Council, Menapia Building, The Mall, Waterford or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org before 4p.m. on Tuesday 28th June, 2022. Submissions should be clearly marked Submission Part 8 Newtown Hill in the subject line.
I also picked up a book from the library this week. Wild Woods by Richard Nairn is a celebration of Irish woodlands and also the story of how he bought and learned to manage his own piece of woodland in Wicklow. I haven’t started it yet but I am looking forward to reading it.
I have also been walking along the coast, to Kilfarrasy and Garrarus, but I have not been swimming. Partly because of an ongoing ear problem but it’s also because of the change that has occurred since the lockdown – the increase in traffic to the coast, the influx of drivers, walkers and swimmers hogging the roads and the bathing spots with little care for residents. Along with the Newtown Woods plans and the uptick in (ugly) house building it has made me quite despondent. I know I am lucky though because I am very far from being able to own property in this lovely area – or anywhere. But my place here is becoming incrementally more precarious and watching the change is like being trapped in a long drawn out goodbye. But, I’ll get over it. Worse things happen at sea…
Apologies to those further afield but today’s post will again be about Newtown Woods on Tramore Bay and the possible impacts of recent and proposed developments. Perhaps it will be of use generally as a small case study.
This week I have noticed there is a further massive development planned nearby too, slightly further from the woods. 58 dwellings in apartment blocks of all things (marked in blue on the map below). However I am very late to that particular party (I admit it, I have been turning a blind eye in recent years. Environmental campaigns can be draining) and residents have organised to fight this. Last I heard its been given the go ahead but I am assuming there will be appeals, so while its worrying – the traffic alone would be impossible – I am ignoring it here. Any information or updates on that can be shared in the comments below.
I have three areas of concern around the Council proposals for the roads around Newtown woods.
Lighting: I am still unclear about what the council means to do re road lighting around Newtown Woods. Their plans only include a notice saying PUBLIC LIGHTING TO BE RENEWED AND EXTENDED WHERE REQUIRED [my bold italics] which gives them a lot of room to manoeuvre and could lead to lighting in the woods themselves. There are already lighting columns installed in the development – as marked on the first map above.
Boundary Wall: Regarding the old wall, I believe it is important for plant and insect life which in turn feeds the birds. And I suspect it also protects the lower part of the woodland from the elements and from light and car pollution. I had heard rumours months ago that it would be knocked down and as it is nowhere on the plans – even on the ‘before’ drawings – I am assuming now they are definitely going to knock it. I don’t think that should be allowed.
Traffic: The one way system introduced in late 2021 means that all the traffic leaving Newtown Cove – which is not inconsiderable – is channelled up through the woods. This is likely in preparation for the development of the apartment blocks. I think all of this should be scrapped.
I also have a concern about the so called environmental surveys and how they were conducted not only for the Council’s proposals but for the developments at Newtown Glen and Carrigeenlea. It seems likely that none of them took into account the local environment because it is not designated as a protected area. But Newtown Woods is an important habitat, deciduous woods are becoming rare and there will be species of plants and birds within the woods that are protected. However it seems those commissioning surveys only have to include areas on the Natura 2000 list which is on the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) site here. The sites for Waterford are below. They are either SPA (Special Protected Areas), SAC (Special Areas of Conservation). An additional categorization is an NHA (National Heritage Area).
Ardmore Head SAC (002123) Blackwater Callows SPA (004094) Blackwater Estuary SPA (004028) Blackwater River (Cork/Waterford) SAC (002170) Comeragh Mountains SAC (001952) Dungarvan Harbour SPA (004032) Glendine Wood SAC (002324) Helvick Head SAC (000665) Helvick Head to Ballyquin SPA (004192) Lower River Suir SAC (002137) Site Name: Mid-Waterford Coast SPA (004193) Nire Valley Woodlands SAC (000668) River Barrow and River Nore SAC (002162) Tramore Back Strand SPA (004027) Tramore Dunes and Backstrand SAC (000671)
It is notable that the only woodlands protected are in the west of the county.
Of course SPAs and SACs can quickly become irrelevant in the face of big money. In the case of proposed developments at Garrarus c. 2007 for instance, the council, surreptitiously passed an addition to a local law that allowed for construction along the Waterford Coast, an SPA that includes a UNESCO heritage site. That development didn’t happen most likely because of the crash of 2008 though there was a huge local campaign too.
So – I contacted the NPWS and explained the situation and asked how to begin the process of protecting the woods and I am waiting for further contact and have expressed interest in meeting with a local ranger. In the mean time I have been looking at what Newtown Woods actually is and why it is of value so that in my submssion can request that a proper environmental impact assessment to be done specific to Newtown Woods in relation to proposed and future developments. Questions I have asked myself are…
What area does Newtown Woods cover? (with a view to including a clearance area for light etc.)
What are the woods is made up of?
Who lives there?
I reached out to some friends and interested parties, including Tramore Eco Group, to help with a preliminary survey of the woods and below are some results…
1. What area does Newtown Woods cover?
Using an online acreage calculator and guesstimating the woods at 400m by 100m (its wider than that at one point and narrower than that at others – I have come up with 9.88 or roughly 10 acres. Feel free to correct me.
2. What is the wood made up of?
Tramore Eco Group observations: ‘Good variety of broadleaved trees: Oak, ash, sycamore, alder, beech, horse chestnut. Many elms regenerating and some quite established which is good given the devastating effects of Dutch Elm disease. Not so good that some ash may be exhibiting signs of die back. Dense cover of hawthorn, blackthorn and bramble and various species of ferns (worthy of a Victorian garden, but happily, wild!).’
3. Who Lives There?
There are foxes and rabbits in the area. Rabbits have increased suddenly in Westtown and this may be because developments have pushed them west.
A bird watcher friends tells me there is a sparrowhawk (protected) currently nesting there. Another bird watcher friend tells me there are tree creepers there too as well as wrens, robins, tits and blackbirds and possibly barn owls. There were barn owls in Westtown previously but they left after some bog was cleared about a decade ago. Tramore Eco group observations: ‘Thrushes, chiffs-chaffs, chaffinches, blackbirds, wood pigeons & possibly a blackcap singing [during a 30 minute walk].’ Along with plentiful rooks and pigeons, I have seen a pair of coal tits (the only place I have ever seen them), a pair of bullfinch (once), a grey wagtail, gold crest and gold finches. I have heard young, long-eared owls here too – they sound like a squeaky gate.
According to local environmentalist who has completed bat surveys here, there are two types of bat here, the Pipistrelle and Leisler’s Bat.
Tramore Eco Group observations – ‘Saw 3 white butterflies, 1 seven-spot ladybird, 1 Buff-tailed Bumblebee, 2 Common Carder bees [during a 30 minute walk].’
Tramore Eco Group onservations – ‘Flowering wild plants also present: wood aven, common vetch, bush vetch, Germander speedwell, thyme-leaved speedwell, wood sage, figwort, common mouse ear, ground ivy, (native) bluebell, 3-cornered leek, bulbous buttercup, field buttercup, herb Robert, cut-leaved cranesbill, trefoil (hop?), yarrow, wild carrot, cleavers, woodrush, sorrel (sheep’s ?), pennywort, bindweed, woodbine & many grasses. The above is merely a taster of the more obvious flora and fauna – there are many more species in this precious place!’
Containing Wall Tramore Eco Group observations –‘The old wall is a treasure trove of mosses, ferns and many other plants and neither it nor the woodland area on both sides of the road should be interfered with, in my opinion. ‘
This is preliminary stuff but already I have a better picture of what we have with Newtown Woods even though I have walked through it for years. I will update on any other information as it comes and on any submission I make and how to do it for yourselves. June 28th is the cut off point. Hopefully I will get some other coast stuff covered in the next posts. Have a good weekend.
Last week I mentioned the proposed developments around Newtown Woods – on the west side of Tramore Bay – to support new builds there. I still haven’t yet had a chance to do more than skim these plans – which include street lighting and a cycle path. It may be that this work is needed but what is immediately apparent is that the environmental impact survey included for these upgrades, and presumably for the recent builds in the area, does not include Newtown Woods or Newtown Cove. It seems they are not protected areas or more specifically Natura 2000 sites. Natura 2000 sites are home to some of the 2000 species, and 230 habitat types, deemed to be most at risk and of European importance to protect. The impact survey does include the Back Strand, which is a few miles distant, as well as the Blackwater and The Nire Valley – at the other end of the county. Which seems a tad disingenuous. This is from the Explanatory Report…
The ecological sites …. are a Special Area of Conservation named Tramore Dunnes [sic] and Back Strand SAC, Site Code 000671, a Special Protection Area named Tramore Back Strand SPA, Site Code 004027, and a Special Protection Area named Mid-Waterford Coast SPA, Site Code 004193. None of the above sites are located within the scheme extent. It can be concluded that the proposed scheme, individually or in combination with other plans or projects, will have no effect on any of the ecological sites.
The environmental assessment – which the developments passed in flying colours seeing as they are nowhere near the environments assessed – is uselessly expanded on to include impacts on, among others, otter, salmon, lamprey, shad, godwit, and chough residing in the Blackwater River, Lower River Suir Dungarvan Bay, Blackwater Callows, Blackwater Estuary, Helvick Head – Ballyquin Coast, Mid Waterford Coast. Newtown Woods or its environs are not mentioned. It’s a bit chilling to think that the new estate which, in creeping up to the edge of this tiny woods saw materials stacked at the treeline, and which will presumably have street lighting, did not need to provide an environmental assessment for the area, only for the Back Strand – miles away. Too late now.
However there are a few areas where there may be some leverage to protect this little habitat. Bats are included and includes also all species outside designated sites [my italics]. And in the ‘Bat’ section – on page 24 of the Explanatory report – there is this addendum…
Along with above, in general all sites with any of the following; woods, mature treelines and hedgerows, old buildings and bridges. Activities that result in loss of woodland or hedgerow habitat or causes disturbance to roost sites.
Those in the locality will realise that Newtown Wood had two old bridges until they were replaced last year by the council which in retrospect has weakened the case for protecting the woods. Handy that. Additionally the one way system brought in at the end of last year that forces visitors to leave Newtown Cove via the woods instead of along Cliff Road means traffic has increased to a huge extent so the woods are being disturbed even as we speak. I wonder was there a survey done for that? I personally would love to see a return to two-way traffic which seems unlikely now.
But all is not lost – the mature trees and the old wall running down towards the turn off to the woods are necessary to both bats and bird species – including long eared owls – and should be taken into account. We had barn owls here too until a small area of bog was cleared a decade or so back. In such ways is nature pushed aside – bit by bit. Anyway, I feel the wall needs to stay and the street lighting should not be put in alongside the woods there if that is what is planned (its difficult to tell from the online drawings). And that is where I will be directing my concerns. I am one individual and a busy one at that and if anyone else is concerned they should also make submissions in writing to…
Ian Ludlow, Staff Officer, Active Travel, Waterford City & County Council, Menapia Building, The Mall, Waterford or byn emailing email@example.com before 4p.m. on Tuesday 28th June, 2022. Submissions should be clearly marked Submission Part 8 Newtown Hill in the subject line.
Any information on species and habitats within the Newtown Woods area can be included in the comments below. This can include anything from sightings to more detailed knowledge. For instance I saw a pair of bullfinch in the woods two years back, the only time I have seen them there. Has anyone else seen them or similar? ncidentally I also saw bullfinch once in the trees running down by the Newtown Glen Housing Estate, trees which were disturbed by the recent roadworks there. What about the old wall?Does it support plant and insect species? What will pulling it down disturb? You can comment below or contact me via the contact form. I would love if an Ecological group wood take this up too as its too much for one person.
May is in full swing – its been sunny and rainy and occasionally even warm. The big field below is a sea of green barley, the swallows are gaining strength and numbers while the rabbits continue to proliferate. I have found out that, as I suspected, rabbits are not usually so numerous here and there’s no real reason for the recent influx mentioned in a previous post. The foxes are still about according to a neighbour, as are the buzzards – though I have not seen Buzz in his tree in a while. Hatching eggs I suppose. The ditches, all a-twitter with wrens and tits and robins, are green and bursting and the whitethorn has blossomed, its flowers like exploding popcorn. It is even on the wane already in some places while I am still awaiting for the tree out the back to take off. When I was younger I used to think of summer as a time where everything stays at its peak for the set number of weeks we call ‘The Summer’. Now I know that change is constant and even as I watch this peaking I see the other side of it – the green yellowing, the flowers wilting, the swallows gathering and going. Nothing is constant.
And down the road the change is even faster than I had thought it would be when I started this diary. Recent roadworks have caused traffic havoc, but now the new storm drains are in, the local council have published further plans to cater to the latest wave of housing. If all this building I am seeing was solving the problem of where to live I’d probably keep my silence – but somehow none of us can afford these houses. Since the Celtic Tiger, successive governments have pushed the house as an investment opportunity rather than a necessity, and buying-to-let has pushed prices up to ensure profits for global investors. There has not been a concurrent evolution in renters rights either. But I digress – if you want to read more, you could do worse than follow Rory Hearne, a local lad, on these issues https://www.thejournal.ie/readme/ireland-investment-housing-5428746-May2021/
Anyway, once this side of Tramore bay was more or less rural but since the eighties the red roofs have spread like a rash that is now tipping the edge of the little woods I have mentioned here before. From afar you can see the tops of the trees of Newtown Wood springing from the narrow glen that runs down to Newtown Cove. Off to the left and right of the woods stand two tall pine trees, perhaps the remnants of a once larger forest. Down in the glen, the trees are ivy covered and tall and fragile looking. An unlit road curves picturesquely through it as the leaves above shiver and coo and croak with pigeons and rooks and robins, coal tits, grey wagtails, magpies, gold crest and others, many of them feeding on the insects living in the cracked, old wall that edges the woods. In May it is carpeted with bluebells. In summer you might hear the creak of an owl and in the evening, at dusk, you will see for certain the little bats whirling about.
As yet I have only skimmed the plans for the woods but I do know that streetlighting is planned for the road along the wall beside it and it is likely that that wall will come down to make way for the planned cycle paths and pavements – which are no use to bats or owls and just as well as the light will see them off. It is unclear whether trees will be taken down – the language is typically oblique. And I imagine, as the houses have approached the wood, the street-lighting will soon enough make its way down the road that runs through it. Apparently there will somehow be a reduction in traffic but how this will happen when there are more houses than ever is beyond me. There is a four week consultation period – which started this week – and I will be making a contribution. I suggest if you care about these woods you do something too.
Watching the rabbits this evening, I thought again of that book Watership Down and how a superstitious person might take their curious proliferation in a place they were once so scarce as an omen. The book begins just before high summer. The rabbits notice a new sign near their warren as the sun sets red, the field seeming to run with blood, and they know it means something, perhaps even something bad, but do not forsee the scale of the destruction that will be very shortly visited upon them to make way for the houses of men.
National Drawing Day: If you’re in Waterford city today, Saturday May 21st, myself and my artist pal Julie Cusack are hosting a Drawing Day at Garter Lane Arts Centre in the Courtyard. Drop in (and drop out) any time between 11 am and 4pm for as much or as little time as suits you and try your hand at drawing or mark making to salsa music, or just for a look. All levels welcome. Free tea and coffee (and biscuits!)
Traffic out my way has gone (more) haywire as part of the road has been closed for a month to facilitate new storm drains, presumably for the new estate down the road. The old wall that runs beside a footpath lined with trees has been taken down as have some of the trees for access. And in nesting season too. I saw a pair of bullfinch in there one year, only the second time I have seen bullfinch in this area. I imagine the lovely old wall further down, the one that runs along Newtown Woods (New Town, how ironic), will be next to fall. The new (mindless) one way system has also been temporarily abandoned for the second time in months to add to the mayhem. All the cars from the housing estate are being redirected out by my house and they are all travelling at speed without regard to anyone along the road. An SUV changed course to drive straight at me to avoid another SUV one evening. I am not sure how I am still here. The choice between an SUV or ‘hedge monkey’ is no contest to some of those housing estate folk. I know because I grew up in one. A housing estate not an SUV…
But there’s good stuff too. We have been having some lovely dry weather with a bit of a chill in the air. I had a lovely walk on the main beach mid-week. There were not as many birds as there used to be in this Special Protected Area, possibly because of the the boom in dog walkers who allow their dogs to run wild here (insert more giving out with swears), but I saw geese and oystercatchers and a snowy egret. Best of all I found a horses tooth (pictured above).
Why would there be horse teeth on a beach? There used to be a race course behind the beach from 1785 to 1911. The land had been reclaimed and the sea held in check by an embankment from the mid 1800s, however this gave way in April 1911 and the race course flooded. The only lives lost were those of three puppies belonging to the local hunt. The racecourse was moved up the town to its current location. While you might not think a racecourse would also be a cemetery, there seems to be precedent for it. The bodies of three famous horses were exhumed at Hollywood Park, the once famous track in California, to make way for a housing development recently. I suppose it makes most sense to bury a horse where it falls, as must have happened more than once at Tramore.
I found a horse’s tooth on this beach many years ago and thought it belonged to some sort of sea monster. They are big, horse’s teeth. I was soon put right but the thought of a sea monster lingered. Then my tooth disappeared, stolen, I think, by another horse tooth appreciator. Now I have found another one, I feel I have some sort of closure. Laugh all you like but I take my consolations where I can. You can’t be depending on any of the big stuff to make you happy…
The new bird hide had its official opening this week too. An initiative of the industrious Tramore Eco Group it’s is situated overlooking the Back Strand on the small nature reserve that has evolved on the old town dump. The nature reserve has its issues with irresponsible dog walkers too, especially in nesting season, as does Fenor Bog out the road, but maybe, eventually, these people will wake up to the rights of others – both people and creatures – and their part in the continuing existence of all. If they do it will be down to those strong hearts in groups like Tramore Eco Group.
I saw my first swallows of the year out on an evening walk (me walking, not the swallows). It was April 20th so I am not setting any records at all – sure they are practically on their way back to Africa now!- the first ones were seen weeks ago and further north. Someone spotted a basking shark too, on one of the sunnier days, down off Kilfarrasy. Yesterday morning I walked down to another of the smaller beaches and paddled in the ice cold water. It was a lovely, grey morning i.e. it was quiet. I saw a lone whimbrel on the beach and sat and watched it until it was chased off. By a dog. Sigh. Then I walked the grey road home.
Fittingly enough, this Easter week, I have noticed a whole bunch of bunnies in the fields near the cliffs. Natural enough you might say, but rabbits were never plentiful around here – as far as I could see. There are stonechats and goldfinches, gulls, rooks, choughs, kestrels and the buzzard, but no badgers or owls and very few rabbits. Perhaps because its open to the south westerlies. The only mammal that seemed to hold steady here is the hare.
I have been afraid of mentioning the beautiful hares for fear of attracting raids from the coursing crowd. But there seems to be no hares left now. Only two years ago, some miles from here, a friend looked out her window one night and spotted a crew with lamps hunting hares for their meets. Then there’s the cats which are increasing with the influx of new builds.
I am very conflicted about cats. I am an instinctive cat person. But out in rural areas they can lay waste to the birds. And hares. The cat next door carried off two leverets a couple of years ago, one from right under my nose. And last year it got another one right outside my door – I heard its scream but was too late. It still makes me sick that I could nothing. This spring was the first time ever I did not see any mad hares in March. Perhaps keep your cats in as much as possible around the spring time?
But what goes around come around or, as they say, there are swings and there are roundabouts – and pointless one way systems, like the one recently put in place near here. Drivers coming to the nearby cove find they have to loop around and drive back into the town and back out another road to get there now (seriously-whose idea was that?). One of the results of this is an uptick in irritated drivers and an increasing number of local cats sent sailing into their tenth lives.
Buzz the buzzard could have been blamed for the decline in the hares too – apparently they take baby bunnies – but Buzz seems to have disappeared too. Moved on, got old, or shot, who knows but it may be one reason why the bunnies are proliferating. Another is that there doesn’t seem to be any foxes about this year. A vixen appeared with four cubs in the spring two years ago. I would watch them playing around their den on the cliffs and find bits of sea gull, remains of their marine style meals. But there’s no sign of them these days. I suspect someone got to them. They weren’t very well concealed.
Anyway, though I prefer the hare, I don’t mind watching bunnies. Watership Down was – and is – one of my favourite books. Lying in a ditch watching the rabbits at their evening ‘silflay’ and thinking about General Woundwort and the heroic Bigwig has its compensations. For now. There is one particular rabbit that has been in the same place a number of evenings in a row. I call it Hazel because I like to think it is just getting ready to leave its body in the ditch after a long and eventful life. But it’s more likely it has ‘the mixy’ – the white blindness – as Richard Adams called it. In that case the newly arrived bunnies may not have long to run.
After a warm patch, its cold again this week with hail pelting down yesterday from the boiling cumulus between April showers. But there’s the palm tree I can see from my house and I am mesmerized by its spiky green leaves against the ultramarine blue of the sea. Over lockdown I tried – and failed to paint it – to convey those tropical palm tree vibes. As you can see, I am probably more suited to the hawthorn.
Growing up, I was entranced by the TV, by the children’s shows (Flipper), westerns (Bonanza), the comedies (The Brady Bunch, The Beverly Hillbillies) and the cop shows (CHiPs). Hollywood, California was a technicolour Utopia only reachable through the tube. I was in my 30’s before it occurred to me you could actually go to California in real life and in my 40s when I finally got there. And even though I realised it was a lot more real than you might think – where the desert meets the sea its often foggy and Santa Barbara can look like Ireland on certain days – I am still entranced by Americana, by motels, neon lights and freeways. So while some friends complain about invasive species on our shores, I quite love the ‘palm’ trees that are ubiquitous in the gardens of our coast. On a sunny day I am in LA, I am in technicolour, I am alive. Palm trees are to our gnarly, knuckled hawthorns bent under the weight of a history of servitude to the south westerlies, what Marilyn Monroe was to Peig – a promise of a bigger, better life, with no pain no tragedy…
So much for that, as Marilyn could tell us. Our palm trees aren’t palm trees, or even trees. The cordyline australis, cabbage palm or cabbage tree is a plant and native of New Zealand. It was popularized in Ireland in the early to mid 1800s, presumably in the posher gardens. They began to spread into the wild in the 1970s when they became popular with the burgeoning middle classes. And they continue to proliferate despite coming under threat during some of our colder winters. Perhaps they are at once Peig and Marilyn…
For any one in Waterford today, I am launching an illustrated book based on my South Russia blogat Garter Lane Theatre at 3pm. All Welcome.